By Steve Friedland

While attending the Best Law Teachers Conference in Chicago last week I was struck by how much I learned by simply observing terrific law teachers. I saw contrasting styles, from Heather Gerken’s Socratic Method, to Meredith Duncan’s distinctive discussion approach, to Rory Bahadur’s combination method. Actually, all three blended different methods and shared some basic characteristics. It was obvious that each was passionate, dedicated to having their students learn, highly organized and focused on learning outcomes, and had a structure that they intentionally shared with students. Just because they did not hide the ball did not mean they did not have high expectations; students were on notice that they needed to put on their learning hats while in the room. I took notes furiously on my laptop and felt like a student again – until my poor eyesight and creaky hands reminded me that my “youthful student” days were long over.

A Primer on Professionalism for Doctrinal Professors

Legal education reform advocates agree that law schools should integrate professionalism preparation throughout the curriculum. Ultimately, it falls to individual professors to decide how to incorporate professionalism issues into each course. This can be an especially difficult task for professors teaching traditional doctrinal classes. The law — and not the practice of law — is the focus of most doctrinal casebooks. Law students typically do not act in role as lawyers in these classes, so they are not compelled to resolve professional dilemmas in class, as students are in a clinic or simulation-based course. As a result, it takes some additional preparation and thought to introduce professionalism issues into these courses. Some professors may resist making this change — not knowing which aspect or aspects of professionalism should be the focus, fearing that time spent on professionalism will detract from the real subject matter of the class, or believing professionalism is adequately covered elsewhere in the curriculum.
My article A Primer on Professionalism for Doctrinal Professors considers how and why doctrinal professors should address the challenge of integrating professionalism into the classroom. The article was recently published in the Tennessee Law Review and is available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2449313.
Part I of the article briefly discusses the multitude of meanings ascribed to attorney professionalism and argues that the lack of a clear, concise, and shared definition is a substantial barrier to effectively incorporating professionalism into the law school curriculum. Next, Part II provides a more coherent, streamlined definition of attorney professionalism. This part also identifies and describes three primary aspects of lawyer professionalism: fulfilling duties to clients, satisfying duties to the bar, and possessing core personal values essential to being a good lawyer. This simplified conception of professionalism should begin to address the concerns of professors who do not know where to begin to incorporate professionalism into their classes. It is also intended to persuade skeptics that professionalism is something they can and should teach as part of their doctrinal classes.
Thereafter, Part III provides guidance for developing course outcomes that connect course subject matter and professionalism. Questions prompt doctrinal professors to look for the natural connections between their course subject matter and issues of professionalism. Then, Part IV considers various methods doctrinal professors can use to introduce professionalism topics into their courses. Integrating professionalism into the classroom does not require professors to abandon their casebooks; using case law can be an effective method. This part also considers other teaching methods and materials for combining doctrine, skills, and professionalism. Finally, Part V concludes with thoughts on how students benefit when professors make the effort to incorporate professionalism into every law school classroom.
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Five Tool Lawyers

Leading Northwest legal practitioner and technology entrepreneur Marty Smith has an interesting post on the Five Tool Lawyer over at Legal Refresh. Using the metaphor of the Five Tool Lawyer, Marty breaks apart the stages of problem solving, incorporating risk analysis in a way I found helpful. In my response Five Tool Lawyers and Legal Education, I critique aspects of the Five Tool Lawyer metaphor for compressing too much into the 1st [Use interviewing skills to gather client facts, goals and needs] and 5th tools[Counsel, document, negotiate and advocate on behalf of client]. But here’s why I thought the metaphor was compelling:

"Compelling, because [it] moves beyond issue spotting v. problem solving to articulate the stages of problem solving, targeting a spotlight on often overlooked aspects. . . . By focusing on risk, the metaphor highlights two often neglected stages of the lawyer’s work – “use judgment to assess actual risks” and “problem solve for best way to meet client’s needs with minimal risk.” At the same time, it implicitly places the legal problem in the larger context of the individual’s life, or the business’s health. And it underscores the fact that lawyers need to know how to assess the significance of legal risks within that larger context."

REMINDER: Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow

Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow
 
Emory University School of Law –  June 6-7, 2014
Emory’s Center for Transactional Law and Practice is delighted to announce its fourth biennial conference on the teaching of transactional law and skills.  The conference, entitled “Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow,” will be held at Emory Law, beginning at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, June 6th and ending at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 7th.
We are accepting proposals immediately, but in no event later than 5 p.m. on Monday, March 17, 2014.  We welcome proposals on any subject of interest to current or potential teachers of transactional law and skills, focusing particularly on our overarching theme:  “Educating the Transactional Lawyer of Tomorrow.”
Please submit the attached proposal form electronically via the Emory Law website at https://emorylaw.wufoo.com/forms/2014-conference-proposals/before 5 p.m. on Monday, March 17, 2014.
Beginning March 1, 2014, you can also register for the Conference at our Emory Law website at https://emorylaw.wufoo.com/forms/2014-emory-law-conference-registration/.
 
If you encounter any technical difficulties in submitting your proposal or in registering online, please contact Edna Patterson, Conference Coordinator, at edna.patterson@emory.edu or 404.727.6506.
We look forward to seeing you in June!

Assessment Across The Curriculum – Spring Conference

Assessment Across The Curriculum
Institute for Law Teaching and Learning
Spring Conference 2014
Saturday, April 5, 2014
“Assessment Across the Curriculum” is a one-day conference for new and experienced law teachers who are interested in designing and implementing effective techniques for assessing student learning.  The conference will take place on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Conference Content:  Sessions will address topics such as
·       Formative Assessment in Large Classes
·       Classroom Assessment Techniques
·       Using Rubrics for Formative and Summative Assessment
·       Assessing the Ineffable: Professionalism, Judgment, and Teamwork
·       Assessment Techniques for Statutory or Transactional Courses
By the end of the conference, participants will have concrete ideas and assessment practices to take back to their students, colleagues, and institutions.
Who Should Attend:  This conference is for all law faculty (full-time and adjunct) who want to learn about best practices for course-level assessment of student learning.
Conference Structure:  The conference opens with an optional informal gathering on Friday evening, April 4.  The conference will officially start with an opening session on Saturday, April 5, followed by a series of workshops.  Breaks are scheduled with adequate time to provide participants with opportunities to discuss ideas from the conference.  The conference ends at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.  Details about the conference are available on the websites of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning (www.lawteaching.org) and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law (ualr.edu/law).
Conference Faculty:  Conference workshops will be taught by experienced faculty, including Michael Hunter Schwartz (UALR Bowen), Rory Bahadur (Washburn), Sandra Simpson (Gonzaga), Sophie Sparrow (University of New Hampshire), Lyn Entrikin (UALR Bowen), and Richard Neumann (Hofstra).
Accommodations:  A block of hotel rooms for conference participants has been reserved at The DoubleTree Little Rock, 424 West Markham Street, Little Rock, AR 72201.  Reservations may be made by calling the hotel directly at 501-372-4371, calling the DoubleTree Central Reservations System at 800-222-TREE, or booking online at www.doubletreelr.com.  The group code to use when making reservations for the conference is “LAW.”

Building on Best Practices and the Clinical Theory Workshop

Thought-provoking discussion at the NYLS Clinical Theory Workshop on Friday.

Definitions. Carrie Kaas reported on the “definitions” project of an Alliance for Experiential Education Committee chaired by Cindy Adcock of Charlotte. That committee is attempting to generate a common vocabulary around experiential learning — a set of common definitions for the overlapping and inconsistently used terms now in use. The Building on Best Practices project will need to decide whether to adopt that vocabulary, or not.

One of the most interesting, and challenging, tasks is to decide what differentiates an in-house clinic from an externship. Is it geography? Who pays the supervisor? A distinction rooted in pedagogy? Degree of independent role assumption? Or perhaps the distinction is no longer useful & and is ready to be junked?

I lean towards pedagogy & intensity of supervision, and degree of independent role assumption. Except when I lean towards junking the terminology and recognizing that we’re dealing with a continuum on multiple dimensions, as argued in Revision Quest: A Law School Guide to Designing Experiential Courses Involving Real Lawyering.

Sequencing. Cynthia Batt from Stetson presented her draft article on curriculum sequencing that is one of several independent articles spawned by the Building on Best Practices book project. Arguing for what I have termed the “layer cake” curriculum model, she conceded that the model is not necessarily the “only” or “best” model. But, she suggested, at schools where significant numbers of faculty are resistant to integrating experiential education throughout the curriculum, whether due to insecurity about lack of practice experience, fear of change, or other reasons, it is one that might have the best chance of implementation. Fair enough. A reminder to me that I’m at a school with relatively little resistance to experiential education.

Under the Radar Creativity. Cynthia made another comment that I’ve been pondering: “I am so impressed with my colleagues’ creativity, the kinds of work they are having students do that no one else knew about. Why are people so reluctant to talk about experiential education embedded in ‘traditional’ doctrinal education?”

That creativity certainly permeates my own law school. Based on a survey last spring, my colleagues are integrating experiential exercises into over 50 doctrinal courses. And they’ve created a long list of very creative simulation oriented courses, ranging from Venture Capital Deals to Supreme Court Decision Making to International Contracting.

So much of this creativity operates pretty “under the radar screen”. But I’m not sure it’s reluctance exactly. Lack of time? Lack of an appropriate forum? Understated, we-don’t-blow-our-own-horn Seattle manners?

I don’t know. But if our two schools at opposite corners of the country are representative, perhaps legal education has changed more than we know. Are we approaching a tipping point?

Evidence Based Experiential Learning?

Over on the Legal Whiteboard, Bill Henderson has an interesting post noting that despite the current call for more experiential education, we lack evidence to answer two key questions:

“(1) Among experiential teaching methods, which ones are the most effective at accelerating professional development? And (2) among these options, how much does each cost to operate? Quality and cost must be assessed simultaneously.”

Henderson is the principal researcher on Northeastern Law’s Outcomes Assessment Project (OAP) that is attempting to answer the question “Does Northeastern’s legal education model accelerate the development of law graduates who are ready to practice and to serve clients?” As Henderson notes, selection effectsmake these challenging questions to answer given Northeastern’s distinctive characteristics, including a progressive, public interest tradition, and a student body with high numbers of women and LGBT students decades before the rest of legal education.

If the OAP project shows that Northeastern’s legal education model does accelerate the development of its graduates, here’s an interesting follow-up question: Will that result be due to the co-op model specifically, or simply to the greater integration of exposure to practice into their students’ education than is typical. In other words, would a different version of a “marble cake” curriculum model have the same benefits?

Publishing “Building on Best Practices in Legal Education”

Regular readers of this blog know that a team of editors, authors and readers are hard at work on a follow up volume to Roy Stuckey (and others), Best Practices in Legal Education (2007), published by the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA).

I’m delighted to announce that the new volume, Building on Best Practices, expected out in early to mid-2015, will be published by Lexis. As a service to the legal education community, Lexis will make the book available to all law teachers for free through their Electronic Library. In addition, they state that they will do a print run of the book and provide copies for free on request.

Along with author Cynthia Batt, my co-editors Lisa Bliss and Carrie Kaas will be presenting on the book at this Friday’s New York Law School Clinical Theory Workshop, as I listen in eagerly from Seattle. If you’ll be in the area, please join the discussion. Contact Steve Ellman of NYLS for more information.

The definitive statement of a law professor’s REAL mission, or once again Harvard Law retires the chutzpah title

I cannot improve upon Scott Fruehwald’s presentation of this happy news in a recent email:

“Harvard is offering this course in the spring:

BECOMING A LAW PROFESSOR

“There are many elements that go into becoming a law professor, but at the core of the process of moving from law student to law professor is scholarship.  How do you choose your topic?  How do you write an article?  What will become your area of expertise?  What have others written about this subject area, and how do you break new ground?  How do you engage with fellow scholars in the midst of the writing process?

This reading group will focus on the generative scholarly process that is at the center of the life of the law professor.  [Emphasis added.]  Each week, a member of the faculty will present a working draft of her or his scholarship, and that piece will be discussed by the group.  Discussions will focus in part on the genesis of the research project being presented, in order to demonstrate how articles develop from the first spark of an idea to final publication.  Students will also explore substantive issues raised in the pieces, the better to become familiar with the latest work being done across a variety of subject areas.  Students will also develop their own research and scholarly agendas as the semester progresses.

Admission is by application via email to Susannah Barton Tobin at stobin@law.harvard.edu by November 8, 2013.  Please include a paragraph expressing your interest in the reading group and a CV and transcript.

As is the norm with reading groups, there will be no examination or paper requirement, and the class will be graded credit/fail.” (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/curriculum/catalog/index.html?term=Spring+2014&type=Clinic&type=Course&type=Reading+Group&type=Seminar&rows=10&year=2013-2014)

The course description says it all.

Happy New Year,  Scott Fruehwald  [If you are attending the AALS Conference, please come by the ABA Publishing table and look at my book, Think Like a Lawyer: Legal Reasoning for Law Students and Business Professionals (2013).]“

All right, I [VM] cannot resist adding one comment:  The best part of this deal is that the participating faculty actually get teaching credit for this!   Well, maybe no, teaching is probably not exactly a heavy load at HLS anyway; no, maybe the best part is that the selected students (or their parents/spouses, or the US government) are paying tuition for them to serve as extra unpaid research assistants.

Or perhaps the very best part of this course is the unabashed clarity of its focus exclusively on scholarship, without a shred of pretense, or allocation of even a single seminar to such irrelevancies  as teaching, advising, evaluating and assessing, mentoring, curriculum development, preparation for practice, or engaging (with and without students) in advocacy to improve and reform the law, our profession, or society — to mention only a few of the professorial roles one might name.   (Perhaps all these skills are innate for Harvard grads?)  This course was presumably approved by at least a bare majority of the Harvard faculty (assuming that they still bother to review course proposals) so I suppose it is an accurate  statement of that faculty’s priorities.

The truly sad part is that many of us, on Appointments Committees and as faculty members, will end up not merely voting to hire the graduates of this course, but trying everything in our power to lure them on to our faculties — including promises that as long as they churn out scholarship that is “cutting edge” (nothing as pedestrian as, say, realistic law reform proposals), no one will expect them to work as hard at learning how to teach effectively or fulfill any of the other aforementioned professorial functions.  And in the course of discussions about how to seduce these young superstars who wear the crimson “H” on to third-tier faculties (at least to start), no doubt someone will point out “Look, s/he took a course on law teaching at Harvard!  One with the evocative title of ‘Becoming A Law Professor’!  What could be a better indicator of serious commitment to teaching?”

Footnote:  Naturally, given the topic, I feel compelled to add at least one:  Of course, these remarks would be seriously misplaced if “Becoming A Professor” is one of several HLS courses or programs, some of which address the aspects of professorship that I am asserting Harvard neglects.  I can’t be sure — the hundreds of courses in the HLS catalog are just too daunting — but I did try searching the past three years for any course that included the terms “teach” “teaching” “education”  “educate” “professor” “school” and some others.  Only one item surfaced, a legal history course last spring entitled “American Legal Education,” taught by Visiting Professor Daniel Coquillette.  http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/curriculum/catalog/index.html?type=Clinic&type=Course&type=Reading+Group&type=Seminar&rows=10&year=2012-2013  It does sound fascinating, a course that I would recommend to students and enjoy myself.  While certainly it would be of use to anyone who aspires to the law professoriate, given its scope and format it does not quite occupy a curricular niche comparable to the new scholar-centric offering.

Social Media and Law Schools (an introduction)

Want an introduction to social media?  Earlier this week, my colleague, Andrew Brandt, and I held a faculty workshop for our colleagues at Villanova Law about using social media to build our community and showcase our ideas. Here is a link to the powerpoint we created for the talk (although did not use). http://www.slideshare.net/MichelePistone

Some of our colleagues asked me to follow up on how to use hashtags (#) and handles (@) on Twitter. I found this great one-pager, http://bit.ly/1bsh4oh, on using Twitter that may be of interest to you all.

If you are on Twitter, please share your handles with this community so we can follow you. And if you want to follow me, I am @profpistone.

School Missions & Visions

School Missions & Visions

By: Professor Pamela Armstrong

List of goals that applicants to law school want to fulfill (in no special order and some may not apply to every student):

  • I want to see Justice done.
  • I want to stand for the helpless.
  • I want to belong to a profession, not an industry.
  • I want to move or change the way our society conceptualizes “law” to account for the amalgam of cultures in our society.
  • I want to be able to put our culture’s ideas about “rule of law” against other cultures’ ideas, compare and maybe push for growth or something better.
  • I want to challenge the adversarial nature of our system as having gone too far from being representative to something else, and I need a way to expand my thinking.
  • I want to be part of the shrinking “market place of ideas.”

Sub-needs or sub-wants – the skills applicants would like to develop:

  • I want to find a better way to solve problems and disputes.
  • I want to think critically so that I can see the fallacies in positions, be aware of inherent inconsistencies in and weak foundations for ideas, and be prepared to stand up and challenge proponents of such flawed arguments.
  • I want to be able to move seamlessly between the legal regimes of many cultures.
  • I want to make my profession better than the generation before me.

Law School Applicants: What Are The Jobs Students Hire Law School To Do?

Following on some recent discussions about disruption and legal education, I’d like to solicit help from the community in determining what are the “jobs to be done” in legal education?

HBS Professor Clay Christensen tells us that a central place to begin an analysis of disruptive innovation is with the question: What jobs do our customers want us to do for them? In other words, what needs arise in our customers lives that they look to us to meet/satisfy?  Here is a relevant article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/stephenwunker/2012/02/07/six-steps-to-put-christensens-jobs-to-be-done-theory-into-practice/

I think that once the legal academy gets a good handle on this question, it may help us figure out how to reform legal education in light of the recent dramatic changes in market conditions.

I am still forming my ideas on this, so am looking to start a discussion and for feedback.  The more I think about it, we actually may have to address two questions, one focused on law school applicants and the second on law school students.  Or maybe the law school student questions are a sub-category of the overarching law school applicant questions.  That still needs to be fleshed out.

Here is my draft list of jobs that applicants to law school need to be done (in no special order and some may not apply to every student):

  • I need something respectable to do after college
  • I need to feel good about myself (to feel smart, special, elite)
  • I need a place where I can enjoy spending time with my friends/people who share the same ideas/talents/perspectives as I do
  • I need to become qualified to sit for a bar exam/ to become an entry level lawyer
  • I need to feel part of a larger community/network
  • I need to figure out how to use my gifts/talents for a fulfilling career (I am not a math, science type, so medical school, computer science, engineering, are not for me)
  • I need to find a career that will enable the lifestyle I anticipate for myself and my family

Each of the above needs has sub-needs.  For example: “I need to become qualified for the bar/ to become an entry level lawyer” has lots of sub-needs, such as:

  • I need to learn how to think like a lawyer
  • I need to learn fundamental legal concepts and theories
  • I need to learn the laws and legal theories that are relevant to my field of interest
  • I need to begin for form a professional identity
  • I need to learn the practical skills and professional values of lawyering
  • I need to learn how to conduct legal research
  • I need to learn how to write like a lawyer . . .
  • I need to find a job in my field
  • I need to begin to meet lawyers in the community in which I will work

I realize that many students may not independently identify these are needs.  What does that mean for the “jobs to be done” analysis?  Is education different in the sense that professional students may not always know their needs?  I’d also like guidance on how that is handled in the analysis.

Thanks in advance for any guidance, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc.  I hope that this sparks a fruitful discussion and look forward to hearing your feedback.

A Rise in Alternative Careers Is Changing Legal Education

By Jill Backer Contact All Articles
New York Law Journal
October 28, 2013

In April of this year, Kaplan Test Prep did a survey of 200 pre-law students. Fifty percent of those students stated that they do not intend to use their future law degree in a traditional legal field. If this statistic extrapolates out to the larger law student population, we have a generation of law students of which only half will ever be practicing lawyers. So if half of law students do not intend on ever practicing law in a traditional way at a traditional firm—what is their intention? The answer is as varied and individualized as our law student population. The answer is also forcing a revitalization of legal education and at no time has legal education ever been accused of changing too quickly.

I often hear the term “alternative legal careers” being thrown around but I am not sure that this has ever been readily defined. Does it mean people who have not passed the bar? Or those in compliance positions, entry-level solo practitioners, or even legal educators? Or those who don’t work at a law firm? The answer to these questions and other questions is yes.

There is a lot of chatter about the definition and assessment of the jobs law students obtain after graduation. Back in 2011, the ABA, in conjunction with NALP, came up with the category of “J.D. advantage” to describe jobs that specifically do not require bar passage but do utilize skills learned in law school. The employers might have preferred candidates with a J.D. (or even required a J.D.), and the job is one in which the J.D. provided a demonstrable advantage to obtaining and/or performing the job. Interest in these jobs skyrocketed as the market fell, with more and more students seeking the J.D.-preferred positions when there were many less traditional positions available. In fact, in 2011, one in every seven jobs taken by new law graduates fell into the J.D. advantage category. (NALP Bulletin, May 2013).

In my opinion, the category and even the term “J.D. advantage” is a bunch of rubbish. Graduates in J.D. advantage jobs are sometimes every bit of lawyers as their brethren at firms and other traditional jobs. Today, lots of associate work and especially first-year associate work can rarely be achieved only by a barred attorney. I believe the legal community and its governing body the ABA are finally just coming to the recognition of what we already know—the J.D. is an agile and flexible tool that can be utilized in many forums.

Let’s face it, the opportunities on the traditional path for new law graduates are shrinking. Therefore, all professional opportunities can and should be defined under “working” and not put under some other nomenclature of J.D. advantage. There are few professional pursuits that would not value the analytical thinking and knowledge of the law and ethics that law school offers. This new category describing any deviation from the traditional path is not required and seems to paint in broad strokes a picture of these jobs as “lesser.” Jobs outside law firm associate positions are in no way less, and in some cases can offer much more.

Here in Brooklyn, there is a hub of a new technology age guided by entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. If a new graduate were to join a start-up business at a local incubator, is that a J.D.-preferred job? After all, while the graduate may not be doing legal work day-to-day, you can be sure that their legal education will be of huge use and influence in the new venture. In fact, you can bet that contracts and other issues involving the law would find their way to the law graduate’s desk rather than another employee. How do we say this is not a law job but a J.D. advantage, or perhaps because the employer did not specify—not even J.D. advantage.

Compliance is another area where the J.D. advantage term is overused. As recently as 10 years ago compliance positions were considered quasi-legal jobs. However, as regulation became more intricate, more and more J.D.s were hired into these roles at all levels. Today, most new hires in the compliance world are J.D.s. In fact, this is a huge and lucrative area of growth for the law profession. However, under the ABA rules, these are J.D. advantage jobs rather than legal jobs.

So here is what we know—there are fewer jobs in traditional legal roles for entry-level attorneys. New graduates are seeking out different opportunities due to fewer traditional positions and a real desire to practice/work in non-traditional forums. The ABA has decided to define any job without a traditional title—associate, staff attorney, assistant D.A., etc.—as something other than a lawyer. So where do we go from here? We need to change legal education and the ABA to fit the new reality.

Law schools have already begun a huge era of revitalization of legal education—some might say an overhaul. Some of these changes are meant to streamline legal education, others to provide more practical training. However, there is another factor that is changing law school: teaching to and preparing the ever-growing population of graduates that do not wish to practice in a traditional forum. Brooklyn Law School teaches a business boot camp and has a clinic that incubates new businesses in all facets, not just legal. There are other law schools that have language classes and compliance courses that are not rooted in the law.

These types of endeavors will help entering law students navigate the business world while utilizing their legal education. This string of classes shows a new multidisciplinary approach in legal education. The more well-rounded student is coveted by traditional and alternative employers alike. The old yard-stick used to measure future success was academic prowess. That is slowly changing as employers of all ilks realize that they need to incorporate softer skills and business skills as well as legal skills to keep their organizations afloat. Being a knowledgeable and ethical attorney is no longer enough to satisfy today’s legal market.

We are facing a turning point in the legal market. Law students are not focused on the same goals as a generation ago, as evidenced by the Kaplan survey cited at the beginning of this article. They are seeking out a new type of legal career that is not rooted in the traditional ways and definitions of law practice. The institutions of the legal market need to accept and understand that one way of using a law degree is no less than another. Law schools have to prepare these students as well as they do those engaged in the more traditional practices. Thankfully, law schools seem to be rising to that challenge.

Jill Backer is associate director for employer relations at Brooklyn Law School.

Congratulations UNM and Editors of the proposed new Best Practices Book!

This weekend, the University of New Mexico hosted a workshop BEST PRACTICES IN LEGAL EDUCATION: The Walls Are Coming Down” in which draft chapters of a new “Best Practices” book were reviewed and discussed.  The proposal to create a second book focused on best practices in legal education is the brainchild of Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, ably assisted by Professors Deborah Maranville, , Carolyn Kaas and Lisa Bliss. The symposium workshop brought together law professors from throughout the country interested in how legal education and the world of law schools has changed since the publication of the 2007 book Best Practices in Legal Education. Facilitated by Professors Beryl Blaustone and Alex Scherr, the conference explored how many law professors fluidly move from former silos of clinical, legal writing, lawyering, librarian, doctrinal, theory, or skills concentrations to pioneer a new kind of curriculum, better prepare students for the profession, explore the limits and usefulness of technology, and deepen the understanding and learning of law students through self-improving assessment processes.

Fully cognizant of the pressures on legal educators, the fact that not all in legal education welcome the need to change, and the moral imperative to address the concerns of debt-ridden unemployed law students, the authors, editors, advisory board members and readers reviewed challenges, cross-cutting themes and areas of promise. They engaged in innovative thinking about how to move legal education forward for the good of the profession, society and the students who desire to be lawyers of tomorrow. The keynote speaker for the Friday night dinner and author of the first book, Professor Roy Stuckey, directed the participants’ attention to what legal education should look like in 2027. At the same time, he reminded us that those seeking to improve legal education today stand on the shoulders of folks such as the honorable Rosalie Wahl and former ABA president Bob MacCrate who paved the way for the changes we have seen in the last 40 years. He recalled their joint mission to prepare “agents for justice in our communities.”

Every law graduate needs to understand fully that civic professional role of the lawyer. And every admittee to the bar has a sworn duty to improve our system of and access to justice. Returning to those principles can help prioritize our cost-cutting and can position us to move forward in the best interests of our students, our institutions and the society our profession is pledged to serve.

A rose by any other name: Evaluation and Assessment at Cross Purposes

A barrier to developing, improving, or sharing our assessment practices is the confusion surrounding the vocabulary of assessment.  Whenever it occurs or by whatever method, assessment is simply the process of discovering what and how well students have learned and then using that information to improve. One can quickly become mired in a sea of words that feel like jargon, with assumptions that confuse and distort the real meaning of this otherwise familiar practice of all good instructors. Part of the problem is that the language is not our own and so, by its very adoption, reinforces the impression that assessment is an intrusion into our classrooms.  Because these confusions are so destructive to the ability of an institution to move forward with assessment, we must either work to make this vocabulary our own or develop a different vocabulary for the same ideas.

Even though discovering what students have learned in order to improve teaching is a natural part of a good teacher’s practice, law schools are having difficulty in knowing exactly what this talk of assessment means. Faculty frequently mistake outcomes assessment for something more complex, unusual, or even sinister. “Assessment” becomes confused with “evaluation” (as in program or teacher evaluation) or “standardized testing,” and, before long, we are thinking of K-12 school district funding decisions based a “No Child Left Behind” external control of education.

There is a fundamental difference between assessing student learning for the purposes of program or teacher evaluation and assessing student learning for the purposes of improving that learning.  If we are assessing for accountability, we collect data (e.g., pass rates) about students learning outcomes that we do not necessarily control (e.g. bar exams) so that we can report that data to external constituencies (e.g. accreditors). In contrast, if we are assessing for student learning, we observe evidence (e.g., essays, performances) of student learning outcomes that we have designed ourselves so that we can interpret and use that evidence to improve the learning of our students.  When accountability to those outside the learning process is the driving force behind assessment, the temptation may be to assess only those learning outcomes that we know students have mastered and avoid looking for places where learning could be significantly improved.  We might skew our teaching and curricula away from learning outcomes we truly care about to more closely match the learning outcomes we believe outsiders consider important.  Of course that already does happen to some degree.  The influence of ABA standards of accreditation and bar examinations on curricula is so obvious we may not even recognize the degree to which our faculty control of the program of legal education is directed by these learning outcomes and assessment methods.

It is against this backdrop of fear that some law teachers approach the topic of outcomes assessment.  However, resisting assessment out of a concern that others will rob law faculty of their freedom means giving up one of the most powerful tools to protect that freedom. If a faculty can clearly communicate the learning goals they have for their students, and can demonstrate how their program of legal education leads to more students accomplishing those learning goals at higher levels of mastery, that proof of learning can become powerful tool for demonstrating accountability: to the students, the academy, the bar, and the public. That is not to say that assessment for accountability will not be required or should not be undertaken with seriousness of purpose and honesty in method.  Assessment for improving student learning, however, should be just as important, if not more so, so that we can be accountable to ourselves and our students.

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